Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size

Does Beta-Carotene Preserve Memory?

Study Shows Supplements May Help Keep Thinking Skills Sharp
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 12, 2007 -- Beta-carotene supplements, when taken for many years, may preserve memory and other thinking skills, perhaps reducing the risk of dementia, according to a new study.

But even the study researchers recommend caution in interpreting the results, emphasizing that the improvement from the supplements was modest for the participants.

"Long-term beta-carotene had the effect of delaying changes in their memory by about a year," says Francine Grodstein, ScD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, who led the study.

Other experts familiar with the new research say the study is no reason to begin taking supplements of beta-carotene simply to avoid dementia.

The antioxidant is also found in red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables, including sweet potatoes, mangoes, and cantaloupe.

Beta-Carotene and Memory

Long-term oxidative stress caused by "free radical" compounds circulating in the blood is thought to be a major factor in many health problems, including a decline in cognitive functioning. Decreased cognitive functioning, in turn, is thought to strongly predict the development of dementia.

So researchers are focusing on beta-carotene and other antioxidants, trying to find out if high intake or high blood levels can prevent the oxidative stress. Findings so far have been mixed.

In the study, Grodstein and her co-researchers evaluated the effects of beta-carotene or placebo on cognitive abilities in nearly 6,000 men, including those who participated long term and short term.

The long-term group included 4,052 men who had been taking either 50 milligrams of beta-carotene or a placebo tablet every other day from 1982 to 1995 as participants in the Physicians' Health Study. The study was originally designed to look at the effect of beta-carotene, aspirin, and placebo on heart disease and cancer, and when the beta-carotene arm ended in 1995, researchers had found no effect on either disease from beta-carotene.

Some of the participants agreed to join the sequel study, Physicians' Health Study II, beginning in 1997, and kept their original assignments to take either beta-carotene or placebo.

An additional 1,904 men, new recruits, were assigned to take either the supplement or placebo, joining between 1998 and 2001.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
senior man
boy hits soccer ball with head
red and white swirl
marijuana plant
brain illustration stroke
nerve damage
Alzheimers Overview
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix